May 25, 2023

By DECH Pediatrician, Joann Kaplan, M.D

Machias – Human Papillomavirus is the virus that causes warts of all types.  Certain strains of this virus can lead to cancer. These strains are most commonly associated with cervical cancer in women, but can also lead to cancer of the throat, penis, anus, vagina, and vulva, as this virus is spread through sexual or skin to skin contact.  Approximately 45,000 people in the US develop HPV related cancer each year.  Preventing infection with this virus through vaccination is the best way to prevent your child from developing cancer later in life. When given at the recommended age, this vaccine can prevent more than 90% of HPV related cancers.

The HPV vaccine reduces the risk of infection with Human Papillomavirus. Like all vaccines, it is most effective if administered before exposure to the virus. The most recent data from the CDC reports that over 40% of teenagers between 15-19 have engaged in some type of sexual activity, and so are at risk of exposure to Human Papillomavirus. Most adults  will have been exposed by the age of 26. About 75% of new HPV infections are found in people aged 15-24.

Many parents ask why we recommend  giving the vaccine at age 11. As in early childhood and infancy, the recommended vaccine schedule developed by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is intended to avail itself of the developing immune system of children. Research has shown that younger children have a stronger antibody response to the vaccine before the age of 15. After the age of 15, the response is not as strong and fewer antibodies are made. In addition, waiting until after age 15 increases the risk that a teenager will already have been exposed to the virus, so its overall protection would be reduced. In fact, people over the age of 15 require 3 doses of the vaccine to reach acceptable levels of protection, as opposed to 2 doses for younger people.

Since 2007, when the HPV vaccine was  approved in the US, 135 million doses have been administered.  Mild reactions such as pain, redness, dizziness, headache, and fainting are common (fainting is more common in adolescents receiving ANY vaccine). Between 2014 and 2017, 28 million doses were given. There were 7,244 adverse reactions were reported in that time period, which is 0.026% of all doses, and only 3% of those were considered serious. The remaining 97% were mild. These statistics show the vaccine is very safe and serious reactions are extremely rare.

Please contact your child’s health care provider if you have any concerns or questions about the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine is free under the Vaccines for Children program and is covered by most health insurance plans.

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